How to Achieve Calm Confidence in Fundraising... Part 1: S is for Schedule

When I first suggested that she go slower to accomplish more, Carol looked at me as if to say, “You must be out of your mind.” Carol (not her real name) is an intelligent and caring nonprofit professional who has served as the development director of a medium-sized organization for the past five years. She has more than 12 years experience in fundraising and is by all accounts a very capable and motivated person.

Yet, as she described her typical week to me, she also confided feelings of spinning out of control, constantly running to keep up with neverending lists of demands and changing deadlines, not being sure how to prioritize what to work on next or how to get out of the weeds, and a lack of confidence in her ability to perform to her potential.

She continued with, “See? I can’t possibly slow down!”

And that’s when I explained the difference between operational speed and strategic speed and how adopting The SLOWER Framework™ could help her achieve a state of calm confidence and take back control in her life.

S is for Schedule

“SLOWER” is an acronym I use to help nonprofits learn to adopt a thoughtful and systematic approach to their work: Schedule, Level-set expectations, Organize and optimize, Work-back schedule, Execution, Record and repeat.

Today, I’ll talk about Schedule.

One of the key components of having a thoughtful approach to business is maintaining awareness of activities planned well into the future with sufficient time to respond to conflicts and surprises.

So the first place we start when helping fundraising professionals like Carol is with their schedule:

1. First we identify every project, campaign, event, appeal, etc., that they/their team are responsible for in the next year, and we list these events in chronological order in a spreadsheet according to the corresponding live or kick-off date.

2. Then, one by one, we begin to build out an “activity profile” for each item on the list. The profile includes planning and prep time, actual launch or the full period during which the campaign or initiative will be “live,” and a closing period for analysis.

OrangeGerbera Activity Profile
OrangeGerbera Activity Profile

3. Once we’ve set the profile for each item, we populate a calendar with the elements using different colors or markings to differentiate live dates from planning and analysis (or any other unique components).

Calendars are typically displayed in days (as in the Word-a-Day variety) or months. The best format for viewing planned fundraising and communications activities, however, is a year-at-a-glance calendar displayed in weeks—where all 12 months and 52 weeks are listed along the top row, and planned activities are listed along the lefthand column.

OrangeGerbera Flight Calendar
OrangeGerbera Flight Calendar

Using the Calendar

This calendar then becomes the focal point around which all planning and expectation setting takes place. It is shared and updated by all team members and, in most cases, is visible by all stakeholders. It becomes a primary focal point of weekly team meetings where progress and updates are shared and any resulting impacts to the schedule are discussed.

As the team grows more comfortable with the calendar, more advanced uses may be incorporated, such as planning for anticipated but unidentified activities and resource allocation.

While the initial setup takes a little time, doing so is an enlightening exercise for the team. And, because the calendar is used to record planned as well as actual activity profiles, setup of each subsequent year’s calendar is made much simpler by cloning (Save As) the previous year’s calendar.

Achieving Calm Confidence

Carol and her team have now been using the flight calendar for a while and are beginning to experiment with collaborating with and incorporating other departments and functions.

Benefits her team is enjoying include:

  • Seeing what work is coming well in advance with time to do real planning
  • Testing the impact of choosing to work on a new project or initiative
  • Identifying clumps of activity and corresponding workload that may be spread out
  • Discovering opportunities to batch the work needed for similar activities
  • Being prompted to conduct a final debrief or analysis of completed activities